2 May 2016

Woman in mouldy house calls for law change

7:30 am on 2 May 2016

A woman who has lived in damp and mouldy houses for decades says she desperately needs a law change that would improve the state of rental homes.

Black mould growing on the windows of the second house.

Each year 50,000 children are admitted to hospital for diseases attributable to cold, damp housing, says Otago University professor Philippa Howden-Chapman. Photo: RNZ/Lauren Baker

This week a bill by the Labour Party, which requires rentals to meet a minimum standard, is up for its first reading in Parliament.

In Deborah Priest's home, the worst place was her master bedroom upstairs where mould covered the ceiling.

The 55-year-old has not slept there for over a year, instead choosing to sleep in the lounge.

Ms Priest suffered from chronic bronchitis and bad asthma attacks and the doctors have said it was because of the bad air she breathed in everyday.

The stairwell is the worst part of the flat, she said.

"I have seen water just oozing, just coming down the walls, which is horrible. No good heating, no insulation, no real ventilation."

Ms Priest said the only thing that could help her was a law change so that it would be illegal for a cold, damp place like hers to exist.

"It's almost as if you'd have to be a rich person to be able to have a house that was decently warm, okay, not leaky, not damp, not wet," she said.

University of Otago's Lucy Telfar-Barnard had been studying the benefits of a warrant of fitness for rental homes and she said changes to the housing law were desperately needed.

"The physical toll is clear from all the work we've done, but the emotional toll... yes [it exists]."

"When you have people who are just frustrated and the exhaustion of wiping down windows every day, trying everything they can think of, cleaning walls with bleach... it's that constant fighting the mould rather than just living comfortably in your home," she said.

Andrew Little during caucus run 1.03.16

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Under the legislation, set in October last year, ceiling and underfloor insulation will need to be retrofitted in social housing by July this year, and in all other rental homes by July 2019.

But Labour Party leader Andrew Little said his bill goes further and required a minimum standard of heating, ventilation and drainage.

"This is about making sure the home is healthy and habitable rather than having a whole bunch of problems that is causing ill health and effectively putting a cost on society further down the track," he said.

A similar bill, also by Labour, was defeated at its first reading last year.

Despite that, Andrew Little said he was hopeful parties, such as the Maori Party, New Zealand First and United Future, would throw in their support this time round - though none of the parties would give away their position before the first debate.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said National would not be supporting the bill.

He said the work the government was doing to get homes insulated went far enough and Andrew Little's bill was impractical.

"It requires properties to be insulated at a pace that is totally unrealistic and would simply involve properties being removed from the rental market at the very time we're having shortages of homes."

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